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Early Term Cabinet Shuffle in Ontario Sees Shifts in Leadership and Staff

Following the surprise resignation of Economic Development Minister Jim Wilson from Cabinet and the Ontario PC Caucus on Friday evening, Premier Doug Ford and his team took the opportunity to re-calibrate his Cabinet before the opening of business on Monday morning.  In addition, on Friday afternoon, there was a reshuffling of Chiefs of Staff within the government.

Ministers who are shuffling portfolios are:

  • Todd Smith (Bay of Quinte) – moving from Government and Consumer Services to Economic Development and Trade (replacing Jim Wilson). Minister Smith will also continue to hold the position of Government House Leader.
  • Bill Walker (Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound) – replaces Smith at Government and Consumer Services. Walker was Chief Government Whip and is new to Cabinet.
  • Sylvia Jones (Dufferin-Caledon) – becomes Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services, replacing Michael Tibollo, who became embroiled last week in some controversy regarding legal issues he encountered in private practice in the 1990s and 2000s.
  • Michael Tibollo (Vaughan-Woodbridge) – switches with Sylvia Jones and becomes Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport.
  • Jeff Yurek (Elgin-Middlesex-London) – switches with John Yakabuski (Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke). Yurek becomes Minister of Transportation while Yakabuski becomes Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry.

In addition, Lorne Coe (Whitby) replaces Bill Walker as Chief Government Whip, and Doug Downey (Barrie-Springwater-Oro-Medonte) takes the role of Deputy Whip (replacing Coe).

Chiefs of Staff were also shuffled on Friday to ensure strong support for key portfolios.  Ken Bednarek, Tibollo’s Chief of Staff at Correctional Services is departing.  Other senior staff have been told to remain in place for the short-term while the domino effects of the Minister shuffle impact the Ministerial level. We anticipate further changes at the staff level as the dust settles.

Transportation a Key Portfolio

Given the impact of transportation in the coming months with the TTC upload and Metrolinx/Crosslinx priorities looming large, the additional move of Dan Jacobs from Municipal Affairs to Transportation demonstrates where the focus of the Ford government will be.  In addition, the departure of Deputy Minister Scott Thompson at the end of the year means that the transportation file will have a new Minister, new Chief of Staff, and new Deputy Minister all within an extremely short time frame and on files which will clearly garner a lot of attention.

Since the Ontario legislature is not sitting this week, we expect that for the Premier’s Office and the Ministers named above, the week will be taken up with getting Ministers up-to-speed on their new files, as well as decisions on staffing and physically moving Ministers into new offices.

Unusual Shuffle

It is unusual for a majority government to shuffle the deck so early in a mandate but given the impact of Wilson’s resignation in a senior portfolio it created a domino effect.

The added issue of misconduct allegations created a need for speed in bring about change. Like all political parties, the PCs will need to ensure they have a clear and appropriate process for reporting and addressing these types of allegations, and as we have seen in this instance, that action is swift.

This issue has threatened to distract from the government’s agenda ‘For the People’ but they appear to have a laser focus. For example, the government made two announcements earlier today fast on the heals of the swearing in of new ministers — including one exempting Legion halls from paying property taxes (in advance of Remembrance Day, and one on funding for pre-apprenticeship training in the skilled trades.

While the government will want to quickly put this shuffle and controversy behind them, the question remains, will their political opponents let them? – a week without the daily grind of question period may give them some breathing space and with attention turning to economic issues the opposition parties will need to pick their issues carefully lest they not focus on what matters to voters.

Fall Economic Statement

A fall economic statement or “mini-budget” will be presented by Finance Minister Vic Fedeli on November 15 that will likely contain details of how the government intends to deal with the $15 billion deficit.  This economic statement will likely provide another roadmap for interested observers on the government’s priorities leading up to the spring budget and beyond.

The Ontario PCs will be holding their party convention in Toronto on the weekend of November 16-18.  This provides the Party an opportunity to celebrate their electoral success and reinforce their policy agenda as they head into the remaining weeks of legislative sitting before the Christmas break.

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